BRONNITSY, RUSSIA: Argentina legend Diego Maradona issued a scathing assessment Sunday of his country’s World Cup draw with Iceland, warning manager Jorge Sampaoli that he would not be welcome back home unless he changes his tactics.
“Playing like that, he can’t come back to Argentina,” the 1986 World Cup winner told Venezuelan television after Lionel Messi missed a penalty in the 1-1 Group D stalemate in Moscow.
“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all 1.90m tall… I get the feeling there’s a general anger at the heart of the team,” said Maradona, himself a former national team coach.
Argentina took the lead through Sergio Aguero in the 19th minute Saturday as a cigar-puffing Maradona looked on from the stands of the Spartak Stadium.
But minnows Iceland, playing at their first ever finals, leveled four minutes later through Alfred Finnbogason.
Messi, whose performances in World Cups are arguably the only blot on an other-worldly career, spurned a chance to take the lead when his 63rd-minute spot kick was saved by Hannes Halldorsson.
But Maradona avoided criticizing his heir apparent and instead pointed the finger at Sampaoli.
“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” he said.
“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty,” added Maradona, who led Argentina to the quarterfinals in South Africa in 2010.
Argentina plays Croatia in their next game in Saint Petersburg on June 21.